PHILADELPHIA - Every time Eagles rookie linebacker Brian Rolle looks at his family tree, he finds another branch.
There are so many, it now resembles the Tree of Life in the Animal Kingdom park at Disney World.
"It's absolutely crazy," Rolle said. "They sent me a copy of it last year when I was a senior at Ohio State, and it was 380 pages long."
The tree has been blooming again in recent months.
In addition to being distant cousins with Galloway Township native and Tennessee Titans safety Myron Rolle, he found out just before training camp began last month that he was related to New England Patriots wide receiver Chad Ochocinco.
Two weeks ago, Rolle was chatting with fellow Eagles linebacker Jamar Chaney in the locker room when the rookie got a call from an aunt in Florida, who informed him that he was also kin to Chaney.
"That one is really complicated," Rolle said. "Jamar and I are related through marriage, not blood. But as soon as he found out, he's really gone out of his way to help me."
Brian is at least the fourth member of the wide-ranging Rolle family to play in the NFL, joining New York Giants safety Antrel Rolle, former Pro Bowl cornerback Samari Rolle and Myron, who spent last season on the Titans' practice squad after being drafted in the sixth round last year.
Myron Rolle explained in a phone interview last month that the players all found out they were related from a Sports Illustrated story in 2007 that pointed out they were descendents of slaves and traced their heritage to a settlement in Exuma, Bahamas. Myron, who wants to be a neurosurgeon when his football days are over, is alreadybuilding the Myron L. Rolle Medical Clinic in Exuma.
"We're distant cousins, but it's a great bond to have," Myron said. "I also don't think it's a coincidence that we all play defense. If you're a linebacker or a defensive back, you want to make an impact on the field. I think we all have the same goals."
Myron and Brian have never met, but they have been in contact. Myron first called Brian last year to offer support during his senior season with the Buckeyes. Brian said last week that he started exchanging texts with Myron just after the NFL lockout ended and he had reported to training camp at Lehigh University.
Brian got off to a slow start with the Eagles. Generously listed at 5-foot-10 and 227 pounds, he is the team's smallest linebacker. At one point early in camp, the sixth-round draft pick wondered if he had made the right decision by even joining the Eagles.
"When I first got here, I wasn't sure I could play at this level," he said. "I thought to myself, 'What in the world am I even doing here?' And I was a little bit overwhelmed about being around guys like (defensive end) Trent Cole and (cornerback) Asante Samuel. But I just told myself to relax and focus, and I'm handling everything much better now."
He has been climbing the Eagles' defensive depth chart in the last few weeks, to the point where he got some snaps with the starters during last Thursday's 24-14 preseason victory over Cleveland.
Rolle, the backup middle linebacker, replaced rookie starter Casey Matthews in passing situations as part of the Eagles' nickel defense.
The Eagles used two linebackers in that alignment. Rolle was joined by Chaney.
"I've always thought our defense was like one big family," Rolle said with a laugh. "But I didn't know it was really true."
Extra points: Wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Steve Smith both practiced for the first time this season Saturday. Maclin had been sidelined since the start of training camp with an inflammation that doctors intially feared was cancer. Smith, who signed with the Eagles Aug. 10, was recovering from a knee injury suffered last season with the New York Giants.
The Eagles have to release five players by 4 p.m. Tuesday to reach the NFL limit of 80.
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